The latest cancellations: How the coronavirus is disrupting tech conferences worldwide

The latest cancellations: How the coronavirus is disrupting tech conferences worldwide


GDC is the latest to cancel as tech trade shows around the globe are impacted by novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Microsoft and Epic Games dropped out of GDC, and SXSW has cancellations.

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The Game Developers Conference (GDC) is the latest major conference to cancel due to the coronavirus, citing concerns about COVID-19. This comes on the heels of Facebook cancelling F8 late last week. 

Tech conferences around the world began to be affected in mid-February when GSMA cancelled Mobile World Congress in Barcelona after a massive exodus of exhibitors. Then, Facebook pulled out of its Global Marketing Summit scheduled for San Francisco early next month. Now, there are near-daily announcements of companies pulling out of conferences or trade shows being postponed or cancelled. 

The cancellations are due to fear of novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The CDC has now 70 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US, including 47 cases among repatriated individuals. 

So far, there have been nearly 3,000 deaths from coronavirus around the world, and there are 83,861 cases globally. Hospitals in the US and the UK are preparing for a coronavirus outbreak. China has been the hardest hit, but new cases are slowing there and factories are starting to reopen. However, coronavirus is now spreading around the world and other nations are hunkering down as they prepare for an onslaught of cases. 

There are CDC health screenings in place in the US for qualified travelers arriving from international destinations at the San Francisco International Airport, and there is a CDC quarantine station at SFO, the airport where many travelers arrive for conferences in northern California. 

SEE: Coronavirus having major effect on tech industry beyond supply chain delays (free PDF) (TechRepublic)  

The city of San Francisco has issued a state of emergency, and Mayor London Breed made an emergency declaration last week to strengthen the city’s response to the virus.

In Beaverton, Ore., Nike closed the sprawling campus where its headquarters are located after news broke that a case of coronavirus was from a Washington County, Ore. resident. The campus is undergoing deep cleaning over the weekend so that the facilities can be sanitized, according to a report from KOIN-6 TV. 

No one wants to be around large groups of people with the risk of transmitting the coronavirus a real possibility or, at the very least, a real fear. As a result, trade shows are cancelling as major exhibitors are pulling out and major companies are either restrictions or eliminating employee travel. Here’s the latest roundup. 

Tech conferences that have cancelled

The Game Developers Conference (GDC) had been scheduled for March 16-20 in San Francisco. It’s where publishers and developers preview new gaming tech. It cancelled after Microsoft, Sony, Epic Games, EA, Unity, Facebook and Kojima drop out, as well as all China-based attendees. The organizers of the event said in a statement, “After close consultation with our partners in the game development industry and community around the world, we’ve made the difficult decision to postpone the Game Developers Conference this March.”

Facebook announced last week that it was cancelling its global developer conference, F8. The conference was scheduled to take place on May 6-8 in San Jose, Calif. It will hold some smaller local events in lieu of the main conference, and it will share videos and live-stream content. It will also donate $500,000 to an organization working to diversify the tech industry and prioritize organizations serving San Jose residents. 

Facebook also cancelled a Global Marketing Summit slated for San Francisco on March 9-12. In a statement, the company said, “Out of an abundance of caution, we canceled our Global Marketing Summit due to evolving public health risks related to coronavirus.”

Google cancelled its Google News Initiative Summit due to concerns about the coronavirus. The conference had been scheduled for late April in Sunnyvale, Calif. “We regret that we have to cancel our global Google News Initiative summit but the health and wellbeing of our guests is our number one priority,” Richard Gingras, vice president of news at Google, said in a statement.

GSMA, which produces MWC, announced on February 12 that it was cancelling the event in Barcelona. It was scheduled to take place Feb. 24-27 in Barcelona and normally attracts more than 100,000 visitors and is the largest show in the world focusing on mobile devices. The show was cancelled after tech giants such as LG, Sony, Nvidia, ZTE, Ericsson, Amazon and Intel pulled out of the show.

Cisco Systems cancelled Cisco Live Melbourne, scheduled for March 3-6 in Melbourne, Australia, saying in a statement, “Due to ongoing concerns about the current outbreak of Coronavirus, Cisco has made the difficult decision to cancel Cisco Live Melbourne…Our customers, partners and employees are our top priority and we strongly believe this is the right decision given the current circumstances. Our thoughts are with those directly impacted by this situation.”

CERAWeek by IHS Markit 2020 was scheduled to take place March 9-13 in Houston, Texas, but was cancelled on March 1. Approximately 5,500 people were expected to attend. The event organizers said in a statement, “In light of developing circumstances, IHS Markit is cancelling CERAWeek 2020 scheduled to take place in Houston, March 9-13. We do this with deep disappointment. Over the last few days concern has mounted rapidly about the COVID-19 coronavirus. The World Health Organization raised the threat level on Friday, the US government cancelled a summit meeting scheduled in Las Vegas, an increasing number of companies are instituting travel bans and restrictions, border health checks are becoming more restrictive and there is growing concern about large conferences with people coming from different parts of the world. Delegates from over 80 countries were expected to participate in CERAWeek 2020. “

The organizers continued, “Our number one concern is the health and safety of delegates and speakers, our partners, our colleagues and vendors. We have spent the last several weeks focused on this question, established a medical partnership with Houston Methodist Hospital, have been in continuing dialogue with experts on infectious disease, and established an extensive protocol. But the spread of COVID-19 is moving quickly around the world.”

Altho not specifically a tech conference, the 2020 Geneva Motor Show was officially cancelled on Friday, with the Swiss government banning events of 1,000 or more people until March 15, due to the coronavirus. The event was due to begin on March 3. The Beijing Motor Show, originally scheduled for April, was cancelled as well.

SEE: Coronavirus kills MWC, IBM withdraws from RSA: What about Kaspersky’s Security Analyst Summit? (ZDNet)

Tech conferences with exhibitors pulling out

RSA ran from Feb. 24-28 in San Francisco. IBM, AT&T and Verizon withdrew in the days before the conference began, citing concerns over the coronavirus. In all, fourteen companies, including six from China, opted out of the event due to coronavirus concerns. 

There were more than 40,000 people expected in San Francisco for RSA, but conference organizers said they would not have final numbers until after the conference was over.

IBM posted on Twitter, “The health of IBMers is our primary concern as we continue to monitor upcoming events and travel relative to Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).” 

Infinera announced on February 27 that it has withdrawn from the Optical Networking and Communication Conference & Exhibition (OFC 2020) in San Diego on March 8-12, “due to the ongoing public health concern over the novel coronavirus. In lieu of the company’s attendance at OFC, Infinera is planning a virtual event to showcase its latest innovations,” the company said in a press release.

Tech conferences that have changed formats

Salesforce World Tour Sydney has gone from an in-person conference to an online-only event on March 4. “Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our stakeholders. Over the last few months, we have been closely monitoring the evolving situation with the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak to ensure we are taking every precaution to look after our customers, partners, and employees,” the company posted on its website. “After careful consideration of our stakeholders and reflection on our values, we’ve decided to change the format of our World Tour in person event on Wednesday 4 March to be an online experience.” 

It’s not a tech conference, but even popular K-pop musical group BTS changed formats for its press conference in Seoul, South Korea last week, and went digital in a streaming-only version, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Due to the spread of coronavirus, Big Hit has decided to proceed with the ‘BTS Global Press Conference’ via YouTube livestream only, without inviting the press onsite, as a measure to mitigate the risks,” said Big Hit Entertainment, the Korean company that manages BTS, in a statement.

Tech conferences that have been postponed

EmTech Asia has been postponed from March 24-36 in Singapore, to August 4-5. The organizers of the international technology summit said they decided to postpone the event due to concerns over the coronavirus.

Black Hat Asia, originally scheduled for March 31 to April 3 in Singapore, has been postponed until September 29-October 2. The website has a notice, “After careful consideration of the health and safety of our attendees and partners, we have made the difficult decision to postpone Black Hat Asia 2020 due to the coronavirus outbreak. We understand the inconvenience this may cause and will follow up directly with all of those who are scheduled to attend and exhibit to determine appropriate next steps.”

Tech conferences with no big changes, yet

SXSW, in Austin, Texas from March 13-22, is still on as scheduled but SXSW organizers have noted a handful of cancellations amid the coronavirus scare. The conference include various programming tracks including music, art, film and technology. The conference organizers have included links to coronavirus information for attendees with questions.  

Google has not yet announced any plans to cancel its own annual developer conference, Google I/O, scheduled for May 12-14 in Mountain View, Calif.

This article was updated on March 1, 2020.

Also see 

Facebook developer conference F8

Facebook cancels its F8 developer conference.

Image: Getty Images



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